Sunday, December 23, 2007

Getting Past "Can't"

While I'd like to humor myself and think that this blog is read by individuals with a wide swathe of dietary preferences, I think it's safe to say that in reality almost anyone reading this is probably already a vegan or vegetarian. That means that, invariably, each of us has had the experience of being offered a delicious looking, but not animal-friendly dish, and responded "I'm sorry, I can't eat that." In my opinion, as soon as the word "can't" leaves our lips, we, as vegetarians, have done a great disservice to our cause.

I'll admit that we as a society spend far too much time talking about labels and semantics, and not enough time engaging in actual action. Hillary Clinton waffles about whether she is a "liberal" or a "progressive." The Bush administration feuds with the UN over whether Sudan is a "genocide" or simply a "mass killing." And thousands of people are riled up because well-meaning multi-culturalists prefer "Happy Holidays" to "Merry Christmas." But in this case, I think it's worth examining the impact that a simple word choice can have.

Stating that we "can't" eat meat, eggs, or dairy turns our dietary choices - which we all adopted for the positive reasons of protecting our health, preserving the environment, and helping animals - into something negative. "Can't" makes me think of overbearing parents or traffic regulations. People who are lactose intolerant can't drink milk; people on diets can't eat fatty food. But almost all of us can eat whatever we want - the point is that we don't. That's a distinction worth paying attention to. At the risk of sounding too corny, I believe that being a vegetarian or vegan should be a joy, not an onus. None of us has been coerced into being a vegetarian - so let's stop acting like it.

When we choose to say "can't" instead of "don't," we set up barriers between ourselves and the meat eaters - and let them off the hook. As soon as you say you can't eat something, the first thing going through the carnivore's head is "well, I can - I've got perfectly good canine teeth and a perfectly functioning digestive system." The discussion ends - there's no reason for them to learn more about the reasons behind your dietary choices, because evidently it's some kind of pathology. In contrast, saying that you "don't" eat something immediately prompts the question "why" - a perfect opportunity for vegetarians to cite the multitude of excellent reasons for their decision not to consume animal products.

Saying "Can't"? Just don't do it.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Good Use of Our Princeton Education

Since PAWS was featured on the mtvU show Cause Effect, we’ve received lots of emails praising our dedication to animals. Of course, we’ve also met some critics. For example, today I got home from a long day of classes to read this email from “Dave”:

“I sure am glad that you are putting that high dollar Prinston [sic] education to some use. Have you ever given some thought to all of the suffering PEOPLE in this world? It is no different than the treatment of animals. Women are beaten Children are born into this world with HIV, Crack Cocaine in their system and Meth in their system. There are homeless people and people freezing in the streets. Go Girl save those chickens. Must have been the easiest choice for a project assignment!!”

It would be easy for me to dismiss this email, because we hear this argument all the time, and we think it is self-evidently wrong. Our automatic response is that eating humanely does not take any time away from your other causes, and hey, what are you doing to save the world with all your free time, anyway? By eating meat, are you able to spend more time helping people? Probably not. It often seems that the people who are the most critical of our activism are the people who have never been activists themselves, and have no desire (it would seem to me) to make the world a better place. PAWS activists, on the other hand, tend to be the exact same people who participate in a variety of other positive, progressive activities on campus. Many of us participated in the anti-torture protest last year, many of us care about enacting universal healthcare in this country, alleviating global poverty, and fighting AIDS. We are compassionate, ethical people who care about reducing suffering—no matter who is suffering.

In short, fighting for animals and fighting for people are in no way mutually exclusive. And because of global warming and health, they are actually complementary.

But let me look at this criticism a bit more seriously. While it doesn’t take any more time to be a vegetarian, Dave is actually correct: it does take time to be animal activist. When I’m out setting up demonstrations, leafleting around town, and writing blogs like these, I’m fighting for animal rights when I could be fighting for human rights.

But does that imply that I implicitly put a higher value on animal life than human life? Am I saying that I care about animals more than humans? That seems to be what Dave is accusing me of. Believe it or not, I do think that would be wrong. In general, humans are more self-conscious, more rational, and more emotionally attached to their loved ones than animals can be, so I would have no basis for saving one animal life over one human life. But I don’t think that’s what I’m doing.

Instead, I’m using my unique passion, skills and motivation to make a difference exactly where I can make the biggest difference. Other people who feel passionately about other issues should fight for those causes. In no way am I saying that animal rights is the most important cause—just that it’s my most important cause.

For a thought experiment, let’s say that it was possible to estimate, empirically, the magnitude and intensity of the suffering inflicted by current global problems. We could then rank world atrocities and potentially name the worst atrocity in the world right now. Now, let’s assume that global poverty towered over all the other problems in the world right now—far worse (empirically, remember) than genocide, air and water pollution, AIDS, the US healthcare system, the Iraq War, animal exploitation, and all other problems. If a ranking like this came out, should all activists stop what they are doing and switch to fighting against global poverty? Would that even be effective?

I think the answer is clearly no. We bring about the most change by fighting for what we care about. If everyone worked on one issue (or if everyone worked on “human” issues) then less positive change would occur—spreading out our efforts offers the largest marginal benefit. Everyone making the free choice to pursue her own passions will be what makes the world a better place, even if some problems are clearly worse than others.

Yes, I agree: there are many serious issues facing the world today. While crusading for animal rights won’t fix all of them, criticizing us for taking on this issue won’t solve any. At least we’re doing something.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Joke of the Day

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanksgiving Food for Thought

Dear friends,

The Thanksgiving holiday—a relaxing day to celebrate family and friends, to appreciate your blessings and to give thanks for all you have—is almost here. Unfortunately, the holiday also means the slaughter of 45 million turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner table centerpieces. While we understand that the turkey—a symbol for warmth and love and contentment—is a tradition of the holiday, just a quick review of what eating turkey really entails will be more than enough to destroy those unfounded associations. (If you are already convinced you don’t need a thanksgiving turkey, just skip down below for yummy ideas for alternatives!)

In fact, turkey production means anything but happiness. Take a minute to read up on the standard industry practice of strangling as a standard method of killing sick or weak birds or watch undercover video footage of the Butterball turkey farm. If you’re not up for actually seeing where turkeys spend their lives (in which case you probably shouldn’t be eating them), you can simply think about these intelligent birds who spend the last five months of their lives with less than 3.5 square feet of space per bird. The birds who have their upper beaks and their toes seared off with hot blades so they don’t peck each other to death in their stress-inducing conditions. The birds who, due to unnatural breeding techniques, now grow twice as fast and twice as large as their ancestors with especially large breasts, making it impossible for them to breed naturally (or as the report states, “males can no longer mount females.”)

But wait…maybe ‘free-range’ or ‘organic’ labels get you off the hook? Unfortunately, the standards are extremely lax, with free range meaning nothing more that the turkeys can go outside at some point in their lives. Yes, any positive step is a step in the right direction, but with conditions like this on an actual “free-range” farm, it’s hard to say how free-range is any better than factory-farmed raised. We don’t really think it’s better at all.

Luckily, the horrors of the turkey industry don’t mean that you have to go hungry on Thanksgiving; they just mean you get to explore new foods and start new traditions. And that’s the reason for this letter—to tell you about some delicious alternatives to the traditional turkey. Here are some links and recipes to help you create new healthy and humane traditions.

Tons of Thanksgiving recipes for appetizers, soups, entrees, sides, desserts, etc!
Tips for celebrating a veg holiday
196 Vegan Thanksgiving recipes
Sample Vegetarian Thanksgiving menu w/ recipes
The new Veggie Turkey Breast With Wild Rice and Cranberry Stuffing, available at Whole Foods (what we’ll be having in my house, I hope!)
Pumpkin pie
• Post your own recipes in the comments section!

Now more than ever, we should all be thankful for having the ability to make ethical, humane and environmental friendly choices.

Best wishes,
Princeton Animal Welfare Society

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

PAWS on mtvU

Check it out!

Monday, November 05, 2007

College Veg Pledge

Next Tuesday, November 13th, thousands of college students—including hundreds at Princeton--will be going vegetarian for College Veg Pledge 2007. These students have pledged to give up meat to show support for their vegetarian friends, to demonstrate their understanding that meat does have serious environmental and health issues, and, quite simply, because going vegetarian is not that hard to do. In fact, we’re hoping that these people will realize that going veg is so easy and fun that there is no good reason not to give up animal products permanently!

There are over 1500 students who have pledged and 34 colleges and universities officially participating. The pledge reads:

“As a university student, I realize that I am a leader for my generation and an example for society. I am concerned about the inherent cruelty of consuming animals for food and the impact meat has on global warming, the environment, and my health. By signing my name, I pledge to abstain from consuming meat on November 13th, 2007, and commit myself to exploring a more ethical diet in the future.”

Here at Princeton, we’re celebrating the veg pledge (and the 250+ students/faculty/staff already signed up) by throwing a dessert party! Other schools are also celebrating in fun ways – for example, a University of Pennsylvania dining hall is throwing a “Vegan Thanksgiving,” Dartmouth is throwing a Veg Out movie night…

College Veg Pledge is sponsored by Students for Animal Rights (StAR), a new organization devoted to helping college animal rights groups be as effective as possible. The College Veg Pledge is StAR’s first event. We hope you enjoy!

Please take the pledge!

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Next Stage of the Cage Free Campaign

Because of discussions with Greening Princeton and the Princeton Animal Welfare Society, Princeton Dining Services decided last year to serve only cage-free shell eggs. This year, Dining Services has started serving cage-free liquid eggs as well, a great victory considering the difficult pricing and packaging issues they had to overcome. Dining Services has said that they are hoping to be completely cage-free in the next few months.

And that brings us near the end of stage one of our cage-free campaign: getting battery cages out of our dining halls. Now begins stage 2: expanding the circle of compassion for egg-laying hens beyond the Princeton boundaries by reaching out to local schools and businesses.

We believe that like Princeton University students, Princeton town members don’t want to support the cruelty of battery cage egg production. Most of the eggs in this country, about 95%, come from chickens in battery cages – small, wire cages that give each chicken less than the size of a standard sheet of printing paper to spend their entire lives. The cages come in long rows and tall columns that allow tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of birds to fit into one huge shed. The hens cannot walk, cannot spread their wings, and cannot perform any other natural behaviors like foraging or dust-bathing.

The movement away from this inhumane system goes well beyond Princeton, and we want it to keep going. That’s why stage two of our campaign will be to talk to local schools and businesses about the difference between cage-free eggs and battery cage eggs, and encourage them to make the same bold move that Princeton University made in adopting a cage-free egg policy.

Tomorrow at noon, PAWS will have a planning meeting to discuss this next stage of the cage-free egg campaign.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Next Few Weeks

In the next few weeks, PAWS will be celebrating the lighter side of the animal rights movement. We have planned some fun events—mainly around food—to remind us all just how much fun it is to stop eating carcasses. Seriously, as a vegan, I think I have more fun dreaming about and eating food than the average person. Just look at the names of the cakes we’ll be having at our upcoming dessert party: “Banana Bliss,” “Key Lime High,” “Chocolate Raspberry Reincarnation,” and of course the Mudd Pie Rice-Cream and vegan peanut butter cookies… I could go on and on naming all the food I lust after… But I’ll stop. At least for now.

This Thursday is Princeton’s Halloween. We could spend it costumed, drunk and at the Street (which, to be fair, is probably what we’ll be doing after this event). But beforehand, it’s time for some “Reverse Trick-or-Treating”! PAWS members will celebrate the holiday by going door-to-door with animal-friendly treats! The candy will come with a friendly little note encouraging the recipient to take the College Veg Pledge. Costumes are optional…but fun.

Then when we get back from fall break, it’s time for the national College Veg Pledge on Tuesday, November 13. Already, near 200 Princeton students have already signed up (1000s have nationally), and we expect the Princeton number to grow fast. That evening, PAWS is throwing a decadent dessert party (with the above mentioned pies) that you won’t want to miss. If you haven’t signed up yet, make sure you do! You can just email me at and tell me you’re taking the pledge. That simple!

Or just fill out the online petition here.

So, get excited! It’s time for some fun=food (=vegan food).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Welcome to the Rumor Mill

The debate about the appropriateness of the Animal Liberation Project has definitely continued past last night. I've already made my contribution; but I did want to make one clarification for any and all interested parties.

It came to our attention last night that a rumor has been circulating campus that the ALP originally had a panel showing the Holocaust, and that this panel was not set up at the request of Jewish student leaders. This rumor led one person to ask me "why did the concerns of the Jewish community resonate with you in a way that the concerns of the African American community did not?"

Let me start by saying that PAWS did not choose the panels that came to Princeton. The exhibit consists of twelve panels, all of which travel together and all of which were chosen by PETA. They do not include a panel displaying the Holocaust. Sangeeta Kumar of PETA explained to me that the reason for this is that PETA has already made the Holocaust / slaughterhouse comparison a million times and wanted to try something new. So just to be clear, PAWS did not talk to any Jewish leaders, there was no Holocaust panel, and the rumor is completely made up.

That said, I believe that a Holocaust panel would have been completely appropriate. I continue to view this demonstration as an "all or nothing" affair; if one connection between human and animal suffering is okay, I believe that all twelve panels are appropriate. I do not believe that huge abuses like the Holocaust or slavery can be quantified, nor do I believe that we can say that one is "worse" than the other. If it is appropriate to show slavery and Pol Pot massacres, I believe it must also be appropriate to show the Holocaust. No one group can claim a monopoly on the "worst" oppression or "worst" history, and then refuse to allow that history to be used to the benefit of others.

One final note about the rumors that have been circulating; which is that PAWS ignored the concerns of the African American student body. PAWS listened attentively to the concerns of the African American groups we contacted and attempted to address them in the panel and the literature we handed out. NO campus group was willing to meet with PAWS to discuss their concerns, NO group allowed me to make a presentation to them, and NO group asked to see the entire display - they judged it based on what they had heard about it, not the actual content. Perhaps most importantly, NO group requested that PAWS not bring the display to campus. Without specific, articulated concerns, there was no reason for PAWS not to bring this important display to the attention of the student body.

Hopefully that clears the air, and we can resume discussing the more important philosophical issues this demonstration brings up.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Slaves and Slaughterhouses...

The following editorial will be in the Prince tomorrow morning:

If you attended the Princeton Animal Welfare Society’s screening of the film Earthlings last week, you are now aware that 28 billion animals are tortured, exploited, abused, and eventually slaughtered for human consumption in the United States each year. But if you’re like most Princeton students, you didn’t go to the screening, and probably aren’t aware of that fact, much less been forced to think about it.

As of this week, though, every Princeton student passing by the Frist North Lawn will be forced to consider these issues, thanks to a series of panels set up by PAWS juxtaposing historical abuses of human beings with on-going abuses of animals, and comparing the justifications for each. The fact that the average student has not been to one of PAWS’s more sobering events, yet will be forced to think about animal welfare thanks to the Animal Liberation Project display, in and of itself shows why the eye-catching, controversial tactics employed by the demonstration are an unfortunate necessity to draw attention to an otherwise ignored issue.

That said, PAWS respects the position of individuals concerned about comparing the suffering of animals to the suffering of human beings, particularly those panels that show animal slavery alongside human slavery. That’s why PAWS reached out to a variety of campus groups before the demonstration arrived, giving them an opportunity to engage in dialogue with us about this exhibit. One of the most common fears expressed to us was that PAWS is suggesting that some groups are “no better than animals.” This concern is, of course, particularly acute for the campus’s African American community, who have experienced a legacy of discrimination that included the claim that they are more similar to animals that other human beings.

These concerned students are right about one thing – we are comparing humans to animals – but wrong to say that in doing so we are being racist or degrading. Sure, African Americans appear in the demonstration – as do Asians and whites, men and women, children and adults. The point of this demonstration is not to make any one race or group of human beings out to be more “animal-like” than the others, but instead to say that we are all animals, insofar as we all want to live lives of dignity, free from suffering. We are not trying to degrade anyone – humans or animals – but instead trying to raise all beings up to the level where their rights and interests are respected.

I know as well as you do that child laborers, slaves, political prisoners, and other groups depicted in the exhibit are not the same as chickens and pigs. We know, too, that all human beings differ from one another. In the end, however, it should not be our differences that matter, but our commonalities. What all human beings share is a desire to avoid suffering and live a life of our own choosing. Whether or not you accept it, the truth is that we share this desire with non-human animals as well.

Slave owners – just like animal exploiting meat-eaters today – justified their actions by seizing upon irrelevant differences like skin color or gender to draw lines between the exploited and the exploiter, the powerful and the powerless. Today, few people accept that the lines that divide us into categories of race, gender, or sexual orientation have anything to do with our right to live unfettered and our obligation to treat others with respect and dignity.

This demonstration is about tearing down one more barrier that has been used to justify discrimination – species. When we challenge the justifications for speciesism, we simultaneously combat racism, sexism, heterosexism, and other noxious forms of discrimination by attacking the ideology that underlies them all. This ought to be a cause that all of us, especially students from disadvantaged or minority groups, should be able to get behind.

It is easy to understand why so many people – even those genuinely committed to living an un-prejudiced lifestyle – have such a hard time with this exhibit. As I pointed out at the beginning of this editorial, few of us have ever been forced to think critically about our consumption of animals. This demonstration demands that we do by pointing out that meat eaters can justify their behavior only with the same delusional thinking that has led to centuries of abuses of human beings. Such a strong demand for change is bound to be a little disconcerting.

Individual change, however, is the only way that prejudice can truly be overcome. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “We must become the change we wish to see in this world.” If you want to see change, if you want to see an end to prejudice, then you live non-discrimination in your life. You can take a step to reject the ideology behind speciesism, racism, and sexism tomorrow, all at once: stop consuming animals. Becoming a vegetarian is change for the better of humans and of animals, embodied three meals a day.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

So...where do you get your protein?

How often does some well-meaning friend, doctor or parent ask you where you get your protein? Instead of rolling your eyes and mumbling about how Americans get 4 times the amount of protein they need, contributing to heart attacks, heart disease, obesity and other diseases of affluence, and when's the last time you heard of protein deficiency anyway (it's called "kwashiorkor" - yeah I didn't think you've heard of it), just put on a smile and tell them the answer, courtesy of Happy Cow.

PROTEIN IN LEGUMES: Garbanzo beans, Kidney beans, Lentils, Lima beans, Navy beans, Soybeans, Split peas

PROTEIN IN GRAINS: Barley, Brown rice, Buckwheat, Millet, Oatmeal, Rye, Wheat germ, Wheat, hard red, Wild rice

VEGETABLE PROTEIN: Artichokes, Beets, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Green peas, Green pepper, Kale, Lettuce, Mushrooms, Mustard green, Onions, Potatoes, Spinach, Tomatoes, Turnip greens, Watercress, Yams, Zucchini

PROTEIN IN FRUITS: Apple, Banana, Cantaloupe, Grape, Grapefruit, Honeydew melon, Orange, Papaya, Peach, Pear, Pineapple, Strawberry, Tangerine, Watermelon

PROTEIN IN NUTS AND SEEDS: Almonds, Cashews, Filberts, Hemp Seeds, Peanuts, Pumpkin seeds, Sesame seeds, Sunflower seeds, Walnuts (black)

This blog was inspired by Jess Luna's facebook picture and my new favorite joke:

"How many vegetarians does it take to screw in a lightbulb?"
"I don't know, but where do you get your protein?"

Monday, October 01, 2007

More cage-free thoughts

This article from Vegan Outreach sums up beautifully why vegans should endorse reforms like cage-free eggs.

"Instead of wishing for a different world, we must honestly evaluate the world as it currently is, and then do our very best to reduce as much suffering as possible. We must reach and influence the people who might be willing to go vegan; reach and influence people who might be willing to go vegetarian; reach and influence the people who won't (now) go veg, but who might stop buying meat from factory farms -- and help support all of these people as they continue to evolve as consumers."

And Bruce Friedrich of PETA's take on the effectiveness of reforms:

"I am constantly shocked at the implication of some activists that we should leave the animals in crates and cages so that we can use that to shame meat-eaters into not eating veal or eggs (and also that the crates and cages are not such a big deal—that removing animals from crates and cages is a small gain)."

Check this HSUS page out to see the differences between cage-free eggs and battery cages. And I'm serious about organizing a trip to an egg farm - would any PAWS members be up for that?

Friday, September 28, 2007

"Selling out" with cage-free eggs?

Recently – and quietly – Princeton Dining Services started serving liquid cage-free eggs in the dining halls on Sundays.

This change came after years of pressure, first from Greening Princeton and then from PAWS. Last year, Dining Services switched to cage-free shell eggs, a huge victory for us. Dining Services proudly advertised that they “kindly” served cage-free eggs. Yet the majority of the eggs consumed on campus, in the form of liquid eggs, still came from hens cramped in battery cages so small that they can barely move. Because of price and packaging issues, they resisted switching fully to the cage-free eggs.

Out of the blue, Dining Services told us that they would begin introducing cage-free liquid eggs for Sunday brunch, and we have a verbal commitment that they are phasing out the battery cage eggs completely. When this finally happens, Princeton will be the first Ivy League school to switch to the exclusive use of cage-free eggs. Finally, Princeton is leading other Universities in its progressive practices.

I think Dining Services deserves to be praised for this action. But Peter Singer's and my oped in the Daily Princetonian which does just that received mixed reviews from PAWS members. Many of you think that (1) Dining Services has done squat for the vegetarians and vegans on campus, and we shouldn’t be praising them, and (2) we should not endorse cage-free eggs as a matter of principle.

Let me first address the concern that Dining Services is basically ignoring us. While it may seem like that, we are in productive, professional discussions with them. Just having them talk to us is a positive step, and we don’t want to do anything to hurt this relationship. Purchasing decisions take time and we can and will be patient. I am pleased with the progress we are making: The new Whitman dining hall is extremely vegetarian and vegan friendly (in fact, I wish I could eat there all the time.) Alex Barnard, the PAWS Vice-President, just met with Wilson/Butler dining hall director, and the director promised to try out new vegetarian entrees. We are still waiting on the soy yogurt and margarine, and we will continue to pressure Dining Services to adequately feed us. But there is no harm in praising the progress they have made, and their willingness to talk to us. And let me tell you, vegan Dining Hall food is far superior to vegan Terrace food, which is my next target.

The second critique of my oped is more complicated. I am very sympathetic to those of you who believe that PAWS should not singing the praises of cage-free eggs. “Cage-free hens” after all, do not have the best life in the world. They are still cramped, just in sheds not cages. They are often still debeaked, and the male chicks are still no use to the farmers, and often disposed of immediately after birth. This blog sums up the problems of cage-free nicely.

But I would argue that cage-free eggs are still better. Battery caged hens cannot do any of their natural behaviors. Living in a space smaller than a standard sheet of paper for their entire lives, they can't even spread their wings. The size of battery cages in the United States is so small that they would be illegal in Europe. I strongly believe that an average bird would much prefer to be laying eggs in a shed where she can walk around rather than a wire cage she will never leave. (Then again, what do I know? I’d like to organize a trip to a cage-free farm, and battery cage farm if they would let us in, which they wouldn’t.)

But that begs the question – why should we accept or promote either of those options? There is a third option, veganism, that would make both of those unfortunate choices unnecessary . As Gary Francione would argue, cage-free eggs simply reinforce the property status of animals. True animal rights advocates, he would say, cannot endorse any reform that maintains that animals can be used as means to our ends.

This is a very appealing position for me. I am a happy vegan (except when there is no vegan food in Terrace…) and I agree with Francione that promoting veganism is the one of the most effective ways to bring about animal rights. However, I’m not going to spend all my energy trying to get people to go vegan who never will when I can use that energy to improve the lives of animals now. After years of talking to people about vegetarianism and veganism, I’ve come to the unfortunate conclusion that there are many, many people who will just never go vegetarian. I strongly believe that will change in future generations, but for now, the world is not going vegan overnight, and I’ve accepted that.

Fighting for cage-free eggs is not perfect, but it is a reform that does make a difference. Not only does it make a difference for those hens, it let’s Dining Services know that Princeton students care about the humane treatment of animals. Talking about cage-free eggs opens up other discussions about animal treatment and dining services purchases. And the switch to cage-free eggs—part of a highly successful campaign led by the Humane Society of the United States—has generated tons of publicity and heightened awareness on the treatment of hens, and factory farmed animals in general.

That said, PAWS members certainly don’t have to agree with me that cage-free reform is the way to go. The PAWS constitution states that its members do not agree on any particular ideological framework; we just agree that the current state of animal exploitation is morally unacceptable and we have an obligation to do what we can to change it. If that means not supporting cage-free eggs, feel free to write a letter to the editor explaining why you are a PAWS member yet do not support cage-free eggs. If there’s one thing I like, it’s discussing these issues. Maybe you’ll even convince me that my op-ed was out of line.

I very much appreciate the comments I’ve received on my oped, no matter how much they derided me for selling out. I believe that working within the system, bringing about substantial reform, and establishing professional relationships with people who buy meat and eggs does not mean I’ve “sold out,” just that I have made the pragmatic choice to work within the system and not outside of it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Those automatons...

"[Animals] are destitute of reason . . . and . . . it is nature that acts in them [mechanically]." - Rene Descartes (Discourse on Method, Part 5).

This year, I decided to take EEB 311. Although my primary motivation in taking the class was perhaps less than intellectually rigorous - who, after all, would pass up an ST-X that fills a science distribution requirement without a lab - there was certainly an element of me that hoped the class would be an opportunity to connect with like-minded supporters of animals and perhaps arm myself with new ammunition with which to argue that animals are sentient, can feel pain, and can suffer.

Given this goal, the first lecture was sorely disappointing. The professor opened the class with a long admonition against anthropromorphism, and numerous cautions about never imputing human emotions to animals. She showed us a video of a water-buffalo calf being taken by lions and then a mass of adult water buffalo returning, surrounding the lions, and driving them off, saving the calf. She cautioned us not to explain the animals initial flight, and then return en masse, as animals first in fear then mustering up their courage to save one of their own. Instead, what we viewed was an environmental stimulus that triggered genes and hormones in the water buffalo, which eventually built up to the point that they triggered other areas of the brain, which in turn led the water buffalo to return. Descartes was certainly alive and well in the class.

What I see in this is a double standard. While I certainly don't agree with the characterization of animals as furry people, it is disingenuous to treat animals as driven purely by evolutionary characteristics and humans as capable of emotion. At our most basic level, animals and humans are both bags of genes and proteins sloshing around. Yet if I observe humans running from danger than returning to save a family member, I can explain their actions in terms of thought, awareness, and emotion - even though I am not inside their heads and cannot experience what they are thinking. So why, exactly, is it that in the name of science we must set up arbitrary distinctions between animals and ourselves, despite our evolutionary history?

Perhaps the simplest explanation for all these unscientific contradiction is that biologists, just like environmentalists, are the most morally hypocritical with respect to animals. Those that study animals the most, seek to preserve their habitat, and define themselves as "animal lovers" still overwhelmingly continue to consume them. So, I tried to point out that hypocrisy: when our preceptor asked us to bring in a picture of our favorite animal and explain how that animal related to our interest in our class, most people brought in timber wolves or panda bears, and told us how much they loved cute animals. I brought in a picture of a cow, and said I was interested in the class because I wanted to know how scientists and EEB students rationalized denying that this organism did has feelings, self awareness, or a capacity to suffer, yet ogle a panda for hours.

Fortunately, the fire alarm rang just then, so I didn't have to listen to the awkward silence.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Be Nice

I had the pleasure of hearing Bruce Friedrich of PETA speak at the Taking Action for Animals Conference I attended at the end of July. Friedrich is the Vice President of International Grassroots Campaigns for PETA; he knows a thing or two about being in your face, being aggressive and most important, he knows how to influence people. Friedrich’s talk was about how to deal with people. His message: Be nice. This is Bruce Friedrich, a Vice President of PETA, the in your face, fanatical, communist, pinko, liberal organization. And here is their VP saying “Be nice.” What could his explanation for this credo be? To illustrate his point, Friedrich includes in his PowerPoint presentation a photograph of a shaggy, long-haired, bearded, grizzled man. He points at the picture and says something to the effect of “Nobody wants to listen to this guy. Nobody cares what he has to say.” He then informs the crowd that the man in the picture was him 15 years earlier. He learned that by looking like a member of the Young Republicans club rather than someone fresh off the commune, people were more inclined to listen to him. How does this kind of philosophy affect daily interactions?

Most vegans have had a similar experience:

When at a family function, barbeque, or any other mass meeting where dead animal is served, you are sitting at the table eating salad and tortilla chips, when someone offers you a charred cow rib, turkey leg, or chicken wing. You politely refuse, but your acquaintance persists—he has an indelible need to know why you will not partake of meat. You say, “I don’t eat meat.” This should be sufficient, but undoubtedly there are numerous follow-up questions: Really? What do you do for protein? But you eat fish, right?

Sometimes, people become belligerent, defensive, or just downright nasty. “Oh, so you’re saying I’m a bad person?! Do you think I’m going to Hell?” It is at this instance, when the carnivore leans over the table to yell at you, that the message of Bruce Friedrich should resonate most strongly.

If you yell back, then the 20 people in the lunchroom will think that the vegan is as crazy as the carnivore. They will come away from lunch confirming their stereotype that vegans are loud, obnoxious, and accusatory.

The point of his message is that being a vegan is not about you. It’s not about being an outsider and pissing people off. It’s about the animals. If you are a vegan for the right reasons, it’s about the suffering. The constant, round the clock, lifelong suffering of animals. And this is why you should suck it up, shave the beard, cut the hair, and buy a suit. It is why you should not yell back at the offensive carnivore. Even if you are correct to want to yell, and you feel that your image is taking a beating, the veal calf does not care about your ego. For that matter, neither does the chicken in the battery cage, or the sow in the gestation crate. And I can personally guarantee that the goose, if he were informed of your verbal assault, would not be thinking about your hurt feelings during his forced feeding. It’s not about you. Whatever kind of verbal abuse you have to take, it’s nothing compared to the suffering animals endure. And if you retaliate in kind, then you may lose the respect of many onlookers, thereby negating any chance of them taking your arguments seriously.

For some people, you may be the only vegan they will every meet. And if you answer an innocent question rudely because you’ve been asked it 1,000 times, then that person comes away thinking that all vegans are rude. This is not fair, but it is true.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

We Are All Michael Vick

Below is an article written by Gary Francione, who gave a speech at Princeton in the spring.

We're all Michael Vick


MICHAEL VICK has, according to his lawyer, agreed to plead guilty to federal dogfighting charges against him.

Over past weeks, there's been an enormous amount of coverage of the dog-fighting operation sponsored by Atlanta Falcons quarterback Vick, who, along with three other men, has been indicted on federal felony charges.

The details of the charges claim that Vick sponsored illegal dog fighting, gambled on dog fights and permitted acts of cruelty against animals on his property. The talk shows have been filled with talking heads from the "humane community" condemning dog fighting and calling for Vick to be punished. Nike and Reebok have suspended products endorsed by Vick.

Please let me be very clear from the outset: I think that dog fighting is a terrible thing.

But I must say that the Vick case rather dramatically demonstrates what I call our "moral schizophrenia" about animals.

That is, if one thing is clear, it is that we do not think clearly about our moral obligations to animals.

In this country alone, we kill more than 10 billion land animals annually for food. The animals we eat suffer as much as the dogs that are used in dog fighting.

There is no "need" for us to eat meat, dairy or eggs. Indeed, these foods are increasingly linked to various human diseases and animal agriculture is an environmental disaster for the planet. We impose pain, suffering and death on these billions of sentient nonhumans because we enjoy eating their flesh and the products that we make from them.

There is something bizarre about condemning Michael Vick for using dogs in a hideous form of entertainment when 99 percent of us also use animals that are every bit as sentient as dogs in another hideous form of entertainment that is no more justifiable than fighting dogs: eating animals and animal products.

There is something bizarre about Reebok and Nike, which use leather in their shoes, suspending products endorsed by Vick. They're not going to allow a guy who allegedly tortures dogs to endorse products that contain tortured cows.

In one of my books about animal ethics, I introduced a character named Simon the Sadist, who derived pleasure from blowtorching dogs. We would all regard such conduct as monstrous because we all agree that it is wrong to inflict "unnecessary" suffering on animals - and pleasure, amusement and convenience cannot count as satisfying the "necessity" requirement.

But then I asked the further question: How are those of us who eat animal flesh and animal products any different from Simon? He enjoys blowtorching dogs - we enjoy the taste of flesh and animal products. But we and Simon both kill sentient beings (although we may pay others to do the dirty work) because we derive enjoyment from it.

According to reports, authorities removed from Vick's property a "rape stand" used to hold dogs for mating. "Rape racks" are used to hold cows for impregnation. When a dog is involved, we are troubled - when a cow is involved, we ignore it.

Michael Vick may enjoy watching dogs fight. Someone else may find that repulsive but see nothing wrong with eating an animal who has had a life as full of pain and suffering as the lives of the fighting dogs. It's strange that we regard the latter as morally different from, and superior to, the former. How removed from the screaming crowd around the dog pit is the laughing group around the summer steak barbecue?

We are all Simon.

We are all Michael Vick. *

Gary L. Francione is Distinguished Professor of Law and Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Scholar of Law and Philosophy at Rutgers University School of Law-Newark. His latest book on animal ethics, "Animals as Persons," will be published by Columbia University Press this fall.

© 2007 Gary L. Francione

Thursday, July 26, 2007

" ...uh, but what do you do for protein...?"

Having not posted in a little while, I suppose I ought to write something a little bit academic.

But, as it's summer, I think I'll stick to personal anecdote - an anecdote that I think most vegans (and, to a lesser extent, vegetarians) out there ought to be able to identify with. This week, I went in to the dentist. Unbeknownst to me, however, my mother had called in an hour before then, to have the doctor talk to me about my diet. So, after my mouth was poked and prodded for an hour, in comes the dentist. After introductions, he launched right into a conversation I'm pretty sure I've had about 50 times before:

Dentist: "You know, it's impossible to get enough protein on a vegan diet, because only animal protein is 'complete' protein."
Me: "Actually, soy is a complete protein."
Dentist: "Oh, I didn't know that. Did you know that eggs are really healthy for you?"
Me: "I've heard that. But I'm a vegan for ethical reasons, not health reasons."
Dentist: "Uh huh. You see, eggs have lots of protein..."
And so on.

We could all probably argue endlessly about whether or not veganism is a healthy diet. There is certainly plenty of evidence that vegans are in fact very healthy, and plenty of detractors who say they're not. But what my dentist - and it seems like much of the world - don't get is that, for this vegan, health has very little to do with it.

After all, why be strict about being vegan if I'm only interested in health? Why not indulge in one of those protein-laden eggs every once in a while; is it really going to kill me? Is it really possible to argue that no animal products - zilch, nada - can be part of a healthy diet?

I'll dodge my own questions for a moment and offer another personal anecdote. I work in a criminal law office. We represent a lot of sex offenders. Interestingly enough, pedophilia is a lot like animal agriculture - it's the non-consensual exploitation of another's body for one individual's pleasure or satisfaction. What I find interesting from reading through pages and pages of psychological reports, though, is that many pedophiles believe that sexually abusing minors is necessary for them to live a healthy and happy life.

Even if their claims were correct, few people would then roll over and say that pedophilia is an appropriate alternative lifestyle. My point is that the meat eater who claims they have to do it for health reasons is analogous (not identical - so please, don't respond with a comment to the tune of 'OMFG did you just call meat eaters pedophiles?'). Each is doing what they think is best for themself, irrespective of how it harms others. People can make all sorts of claims about what is healthy for them, but they are all missing the point. Even if my dentist could convice me that I'd be healthier as a carnivore, it wouldn't much matter.

Veganism is not about what is best for the individual human. If ethical systems really stemmed from self-interest, there would have been no reason for Southern Whites at the top of the racial hierarchy to march alongside MLK in Selma in the 1960s, no reason for dominant husbands to concede that their wives really did deserve to be treated as equals during the women's liberation movement in the 1970s, and no reason for heterosexual congressman to allow funding for AIDS research when HIV was concentrated among homosexuals in the 1980s. Campaigns that push veganism only as a way to lose a few pounds only perpetuate the attitude that, in the end, all of our decisions are to be weighed on moral scales that consider only ourselves. In contrast, a just - and by extension, vegan - society will invariably be one in which we are willing to look past what is best for ourselves towards what is best for others.

Tell that to my dentist. Meat eating: it's wrong, healthy or not.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Movement

The animal protection movement is extremely fragmented. On the extreme end, underground groups like the Animal Liberation Front use physical force to liberate animals and intimidate animal exploiters--something PAWS would never advocate. While this might seem impossible to some, PETA is actually moderate in comparison. PETA uses provocative tactics to draw attention to horrific situations that people would otherwise ignore and pressures companies to adopt more animal friendly policies. Even more moderate is The Humane Society of the United States, a mainstream animal welfare organization that fights for more humane treatment of animals used for food, clothing, entertainment and testing. Gary Francione, who spoke at Princeton last year, is an outspoken critic of both HSUS and PETA, arguing that the welfare reforms they fight for actually hurt the animal liberation movement.

Take the poll at the right to vote for the type of animal protection that you believe in.

Update: Results!

PETA: 35% (5 votes)
HSUS: 28% (4 votes)
Gary Francione: 28% (4 votes)
Animals? You mean my dinner?: 7% (1 vote)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Unnatural Veganism?

Thomas Perry:

"...To me, veganism is an ultimately imperfect but rational decision to repudiate the cruel, ruthless mass exploitation of animals by modern agribusiness and not benefit by unnecessary cruelty and death. The question, in our society at least, is not what is natural but what is least harmful - to animals, health and environment. Sure, eating meat the way indigenous people practised it was 'natural', was necessary for survival (as was/is cannibalism - see Dr Tim Flannery's book on New Guinea), but how many in our society would seriously consider chasing game with stone-age implements and living in a bark humpy?

Judging by indigenous lifestyles, veganism cannot be called 'natural', but neither can buying a cellophane-wrapped lump of chemically-laced muscle from a genetically-engineered factory farmed animal encased in a fluorescent-lit supermarket display.

What is true in our artificial, technologically-cocooned, sedentary society is that a diet rich in fibre, vitamins, Omega 3 fatty acids, anti-oxidants and phytoestrogens (to name a few), and low in saturated fat, sodium, harmful bacteria, chemical residues and without cholesterol, i.e. a plant-based or VEGAN diet, is much better for human health, takes much less land and agricultural inputs (water, fuel etc.) to produce equivalent food value, and causes, by far, the least amount of cruelty to animals. This may not be 'natural', but it is certainly a lot saner, sustainable and compassionate than the alternative. And if we humans cannot use our gift of intelligence to better our lives and our world, then we do not deserve it."

I can't figure out which Thomas Perry this is, but I love that quote nonetheless.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Unsafe, Untested, and Tasty

Let’s talk about cannibalism for five minutes. It’s one of those absurd concepts that simultaneously roil your stomach and keep you from looking away. The Donner party of 150 years ago is still worth a dark joke, and Hannibal Lecter has been good for four movies so far. Meanwhile, at Princeton, I can frequently count on a friend to remark—after sorting their extra food into the garbage—that it seems rather strange to feed pigs to pigs. They’ve just tossed the remains of a ham sandwich (or some sausage and eggs) into the garbage can, but the fact that the food in the can is fed to pigs is not worth much thought.

I am not here saying that pigs are about to have some sort of moral revulsion to eating a fellow pig, the way that you or I would hesitate before biting into our roommate. (Even if they leave laundry everywhere.) What I am saying is to think about the health consequences of eating meat when the meat industry feeds pigs pigs and cows cows.

Several years ago, there was an outbreak of mad cow disease. Mad cow was caused by cattle being fed other cattle. More interesting was the apparently related new disease, known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which literally liquefied the brains of those who were infected with it—CJD was a new human variant of mad cow. The news played images of hellish funeral pyres for thousands of cows; mad cow cropped up in a much smaller proportion in America; and the Red Cross still has strict restrictions on blood donations from anyone who may have come in contact with any of that meat.

The reason that mad cow was a problem in the first place is that cattle crammed into feedlots need to be fed cheaply; they need lots of protein; and one cheap way to do that is to feed the animals leftover chunks of their dead brethren. Of course, on a simple biological level, cows—along with chickens and other food animals—are meant to be herbivores. Cows have four stomachs so that they can break down the cellulose in grass, not eyeballs.

Until a few years ago, every time you had a hamburger, the several thousand cows that constituted that burger had grown up eating the corpses of household pets purchased from animal shelters, along with sawdust and the remains of sick, dying cows that couldn’t go straight to meat.

Faced with the threat of mad cow, the FDA drafted regulations to ban the feeding of animals to other animals. The meat industry vehemently objected, and the final ban did prevent cows from being fed other cows, sheep, goats, or dogs—with the exception that cows can still be fed the blood, liquefied bone marrow, and tallow. The ban also placed absolutely no restrictions on what could be fed to hogs, poultry, pets, or animals in zoos.

Studies in Europe showed that pigs and other feed animals were fully susceptible to different variants of mad cow disease. Stricter European bans that completely prohibit feeding ruminants (goats, sheep, cattle, elk, or deer) to other ruminants have not proven totally sufficient to stop the spread of mad cow. America’s own Center for Disease Control has called for America to follow Europe’s suit with an identical ban—at a bare minimum.

You could write these facts off by pointing out that there hasn’t been a violent outbreak of CJD, and that there haven’t been hundreds of people dying with their brains liquefied—yet. But the fact that these practices continue, added to the fact that your meat is already contaminated with vomit, urine, and feces from kill lines that travel too fast—no matter how much you cook it, disinfected poop is still poop—might make you want to reconsider that next bite of meat. The fact that the USDA doesn’t actually have statutory authority to demand that meat factories recall contaminated meat when it’s discovered might make you hesitate. The fact that not much is actually known about the human variant—including the incubation period—so an epidemic could still be forthcoming, is startling.

Finally, much of the justification for acceding to the meat industry’s protestations against stricter feed regulations stemmed from the fact that American cattle haven’t had severe outbreaks of mad cow. But, it’s rather hard to know if American cattle, or other animals, have mad cow disease if we don’t test them—and we are rather lacking in that department. For example, from 1990 to 2001, the US slaughtered 375 million cows, and only tested 15,000 for mad cow. Belgium has a cattle herd that is one-thirtieth the size of America’s, and tests 400,000 a year.

The joke about hot dogs is that no one really knows what’s in them. The sad truth about meat is that you have no idea what’s in it anyway.
Jordan Bubin '09
PAWS member

Friday, July 06, 2007

'Live Earth' Sells Death

The Live Earth concert this Saturday (7/7/07) is a 24-hour, seven-continent concert designed to generate publicity about global warming and encourage people to take global warming mitigation into their own hands.

Top on the list Live Earth suggestions to reduce your carbon footprint is “Green Your Diet: The international meat industry generates roughly 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions,” and the very first suggestion in the NY Times article about the companion book to the Live Earth concert states, “Whenever possible, replace meat with soy or other vegetable protein in your diet. It takes eight times as much energy to produce a pound of meat as it does a pound of tofu.”

So will they be serving meat? Of course! Concert-goers need their carbon and methane heavy burgers to be happy. Hey, they’re paying a lot of money to go to this concert, they should get to eat what they want!

In the meantime, Live Earth founder Al Gore, a follower of the meat-heavy Atkin’s diet, still seems to be ignoring the link between meat and his favorite cause.

I'm glad they're doing this concert and perhaps it will bring about more good than the harm it's producing, but still - shouldn't Live Earth be able to take a stand and say "no meat"?

P.S. Live Earth is coming to DC in a last minute change! If anybody is around here and wants to hand out pro-veg literature with me and Compassion Over Killing, let me know! (The DC concert is free.)

Monday, July 02, 2007

Mitt Romney, Diarrhea, and Torture

Fifteen years ago Mitt Romney strapped his Irish setter to the roof of the family car before taking a 12-hour drive. The story is meant to be an amusing anecdote: The animal was so terrified it was stricken with thunderous diarrhea; Romney’s children, in the backseat of the car, complained about the mess over their heads. Dear old Dad just pulled over, hosed the dog, and the car off, and kept going, bravely salvaging a family vacation.

I’ll just avoid the inane debate over whether or not it was really cruel to the animal, and leave the evidence from the rear windshield as proof enough. What’s more interesting about the situation is that, in avoiding the simple act of compassion it would take to let the dog at least ride inside the car, Romney broke the law. A simple, paltry law to be sure; but it’s illegal to even ride with a dog in the open bed of a pickup, much less strap it in a kennel to the roof of a car for 12 hours.

In the interests of disclosure, I too have broken the law—just about every weekend, like much of campus, I commit the crime of drink. But what irritates me about Romney is that, as governor of Massachusetts, he surely knew of the law, and didn’t mind acknowledging that he publicly broke the law—instead, it was worth a grin and probably a couple votes. When Jon Corzine, governor of NJ, was critically injured in a car accident, he had the simple character to ask the state police to issue him a ticket for not wearing his seatbelt.

Small gestures like that can be important. In the current “War on Terror,” plenty of politicians are showing little disregard for the law. The debates over the use of extraordinary rendition and “enhanced interrogation” are two sad, pertinent examples. Of course, the same Romney who caused his dog to dump its bowels on his windshield is an advocate of those 'enhanced techniques' that have killed dozens of prisoners. It’s not a matter of someone who inflicts cruelty on animals probably also inflicts it on people; it’s an example of someone who has little disregard for the law, whether it applies to animals or to people. And this is a man running for the presidency, the highest office in the nation sworn to uphold the law. Fantastic.

Jordan Bubin '09
PAWS member

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Michael Moore: SiCKO?

Our friends at PETA just sent a rather blunt letter to Michael Moore as his new movie SiCKO hits theaters. PETA wants Moore to take some personally responsibility for the healthcare system by leading a healthy lifestyle—ie, by going vegetarian. An excerpt from the letter:

“Although we think that your film could actually help reform America’s sorely inadequate health care system, there’s an elephant in the room, and it is you. With all due respect, no one can help but notice that a weighty health issue is affecting you personally. We’d like to help you fix that. Going vegetarian is an easy and life-saving step that people of all economic backgrounds can take in order to become less reliant on the government’s shoddy healthcare system, and it’s something that you and all Americans can benefit from personally. Vegetarians weigh, on average, up to 20 percent less than their meat-eating counterparts—meaning less weight-related problems like heart attacks and strokes—and live about eight years longer. I’m sure that your fans would appreciate having you around longer! By going vegetarian, you would also provide a powerful message of personal responsibility for one’s health, allowing others to become less reliant on a system that doesn’t care about them.”

What do you think—too harsh? Personally, I think he can take it. And after Moore brought live animals outside PETA headquarters wearing signs telling PETA employees “You are wasting your time,” I think he might even deserve it.

Too bad more good liberals like Michael Moore don’t recognize the connection between human rights and animal rights.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Some Global Warming Facts

In his last post, Alex mentioned that PAWS will be taking on an important issue next year: the link between meat-eating and global warming.

Given the media and government silence on this link, the facts are pretty stunning.

According to the United Nations' very own Food and Agriculture Organization—about as unbiased a source as you can ask for—the livestock sector contributes to a whopping 18% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. That’s more than the entire transportation sector, including cars, planes, trucks, etc. Read the whole report here.

A University of Chicago study tells us more about individuals’ contributions to global warming. Authors Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin looked at five different diets, ranging from average American to vegetarian. They discovered that the average American diet yields an extra ton and a half of CO2 equivalent than a strictly vegetarian diet. The most interesting thing is putting this information in context of car use: reducing animal products in your diet from 20% to 0% is the same as going from a Camry to a Prius; going from a red meat diet of 35% animal products to a vegan diet is the same as going from an SUV to a Prius. That’s right: if hybrids are cool, than a vegan diet is even cooler.

So why haven’t we heard more about this clear link? Perhaps because policy-makers and global warming leaders don’t think the public is willing to make big sacrifices. Encouraging consumers to buy hybrids and compact fluorescent lightbulbs– that’s no problem. Taking away someone’s hamburger, on the other hand, is out of the question.

In an email leaked to the press from the British environmental agency to a vegetarian group Viva, a British official acknowledged “the potential benefit of a vegan diet in terms of climate impact,” but admitted that would be a hard case to sell to the public, adding “it will be a case of introducing this gently as there is a risk of alienating the public majority.”

No government agency will actively encourage vegetarianism until it knows that its constituents care enough to reduce their meat consumption, no matter how many convincing reports stare them in the face. By going vegetarian, you’re not only contributing to a reduced demand for damaging animal products, you’re also showing policy-makers that people are willing to make sacrifices for animals and the earth.

Let's break the silence on meat and global warming - spread the word!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Making the Connection

When PAWS did its "Meat Tray" demonstration outside of Frist, I was struck by the number of people who confronted me asking why we would worry about saving chickens and pigs when there were people dying in Iraq, humans suffering in Darfur. One person - whose banal and uninformed statement earns her anonymity - told me that "Telling someone not to eat meat is like Catholics telling Jews not to be Jewish."

Is our movement really one that should relegated to the backseat? Is it just a matter of preference or personal philosophy? Many people think that caring about animals is a good thing - but that animal treatment is not a major political issue.
When asked about the nature of animal liberation even Dan Mathews, Vice President of PETA, asserted that our movement is not a political one, but a consumer one. Certainly, if we were to track the number or success of bills going through congress or listen to the presidential debates, it would be pretty clear that animal liberation is on the political backburner.

Or is it?

Whether or not politcians will admit it, many contemporary issues are undeniably tied to the way our society treats animals. Take the VT shootings for example. Whether or not Cho Seung-Hui turns out to have been an animal abuser, animal abuse is one of the most prevalent signs of a budding school shooter. Moreover, it signals other forms of violence; according to the American Humane Association, 88% of families engaging in child abuse also abuse their pets.

Here's another connection few people know about. Animal liberation would seem to be totally unrelated to the bills on undocumented immigration stalled before the Senate right now. But the next time you hear a commentator arguing that immigrants take jobs no American wants, its worth noting that 40,000 undocumented migrants work in slaughterhouses. Is it a coincidence that our most invisible workers are sent to the places we most want avoid seeing - where our meat comes from? Perhaps we should ask why so few Americans would work in such places. If we bring the immigrants out of the shadows, will the places they work also become visible?

Finally - and this is an issue that you'll be hearing from PAWS about a lot in the upcoming year - animal liberation ought to be part of any serious political solution to global warming. When global leaders met at the G-8, they quibbled over cutting automobile emissions and switching to renewable energy, all the while ignoring that 18% of global warming - more than transportation emissions - is a result of animal agriculture. To pretend that we can ignore the source of one-fifth of the problem in crafting a solution is an exercise in willful ignorance. Sorry Al Gore.

So it seems to me that whether or not our leaders choose to confront these issues directly, they cannot entirely avoid them. This seems to be the opening for Animal Liberation advocates. It requires no philosophical sea change of thinking to convince people that school shootings are bad, that jobs so horrendous that no American will take them might be in truly horrendous places, and that it is not a good idea to let the earth fry. Add in the health benefits, and it seems like you could convince people to free the animals without convincing them to care about animals in the slightest.

I do wonder, however, if we can truly acheive a cruelty free world without forcing people to accept that animals do truly have interests.

Read. Muse. Respond.

Alex '09


Welcome to the Princeton Animal Welfare Society's blog! Although your friendly PAWS officers (Jenny, Sam, and I) will be posting news, thoughts, and ideas about animal liberation at Princeton, the main purpose of this blog is to serve as a forum for broad discussion. PAWS originated with the aim of provoking a dialogue; this is your chance to participate.

In solidarity,

Alex '09